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2018 in a nutshell…

Total distance cycled in 2018: 11,141km/6,844 miles. Unidirectional equivalent: Bergen(Norway) to Vladivostok (eastern Siberia)

img-20181028-wa0002I have to admit, I am in a phase of regression…..

At a drinks party over the festive season, I was in conversation with a contemporary about my habits of travelling on two wheels. By way of response to some of the things I said, I heard the following:

“Really, you travel all by yourself? What happens if you get sick or have an accident?…… You don’t have a support vehicle to carry your kit? But you must have hotel rooms booked in advance at least? No? You mean, you have no idea where you are going to stay each night? Aren’t you worried about your own safety…….?”

And so it went on. And this is only one example of dozens of similar conversations I’ve had with people of my own generation over the years which, not surprisingly, pigeonholes me as some kind of weirdo, a man out of synch with his contemporaries. Years ago, adventure travel for me amounted to nothing wilder than staying in youth hostels, travelling economy class, and eating at the cheapest restaurants. But I now find I am wanting to push back the boundaries, back to my penniless days, to experience the simplicity of independent travel, finding the food and drink I need wherever it is available, laying my head down where nature allows me, and accepting kindness and hospitality whenever it is freely proffered.

I will never aspire to be a desert-crossing, Antarctica-sledging, Himalaya-scaling kind of adventure traveller, but my comfort zone is definitely in long-distance solo cycle-trekking, with minimal luggage and few concrete plans other than knowing my general direction of travel, the pace of which is governed only by the date printed on my return ticket to the UK. For some, enough to inspire fear and anxiety, for me, liberating and energising.

 

The magnetism of fishing

After chewing the fat with a crowd of cycling buddies over coffee and cakes at Elton Hall Garden Centre, I headed home via the ancient village of Fotheringhay, with its legendary connections with Richard III and the execution of Mary Queen of Scots.

As I crossed the ancient packhorse bridge, I passed this group casting lines with metal discs into the water. And yes, I had to ask what they were up to…..and discovered they were ‘pescatorial detectorists’ doing what is commonly called ‘magnet fishing’. And no, that doesn’t mean fishing for magnets, but using strong magnets to fish for metal objects, preferably of a historic and valuable kind.

The only catch of the morning had been a rusty old horseshoe….but they continued casting their magnets with enthusiasm.

Riding the winter solstice

I celebrated the summer solstice this year by cycling out to a decommissioned church and spending the night in its hallowed emptiness. This was followed by a ride home as the sun’s orb rose above the north eastern horizon at 04.44am.

A few days ago, on the 21st, as the northern hemisphere reached the nadir of its tilt away from the sun, I set out on a symmetrical ride to observe the winter solstice, and found that Santa had solved his transport problem in the event of a snowless Christmas…

…he misses nothing in his forward planning…very impressive. Present deliveries are now assured…

I wish you all a very happy Christmas, and many happy miles in 2019….and thanks for your company.

A Christmas song recycled?

The story…..

I have just finished preparing an illustrated account of my adventure riding from Vancouver to Mexico.  It’s a fascinating story (well, I think so!), and I will be taking it to a couple of local groups in the near future.

If you are a member of one such group, or know of similar groups, that like to invite speakers to their meetings, I am happy to entertain locations around West Cambridgeshire, East Northamptonshire and North Bedfordshire.

The story will be of interest to both cyclists and non-cyclists alike. It is principally the story of a journey, with only passing references to riding a bike.

Contact me via a ‘Comment’ on this blog…… (look for the ‘Leave a comment’ icon at the bottom of each post.)

First slide pp

 

With the sun on our right: Tim Moss

sun-right-3D-300Unlike many memoirs of long journeys, Tim Moss’s narrative of cycling around the world with his wife, Laura, is a real page-turner. Long journeys, by their very nature, provide a lot of material of a repetitive kind, so finding your voice as an author and keeping the reader plugged in is a fine balancing act. The narrative needs momentum, it requires twists and turns, and variations of speed……just like a bicycle ride in fact, except that the really interesting things often happen off the bike, in the variety of vignettes that pepper the journey, giving us an insight into the lives and personalities of the travellers themselves, as well as a flavour of the terrain and people they encounter en route.

Being a long-distance cyclist myself, I know what it’s like to be 8-10 hours a day on the road. During those long lonely hours your mind is filled with inconsequentials like: ‘how far till the next stop, where’s the next foodstore, will this hill never end, should I sleep in this wood or look for the grounds of a temple?’. Your attention, in fact, is entirely focused on survival……which in itself doesn’t make a great story. It’s when you stop thinking about yourself and survival, and turn your attention outwards…..that’s where the real story is, and Tim has created a narrative that keeps you turning the pages.

A great read, for both cyclists and non-cyclists, and a great 5 minute trailer below.

Carpe diem…

Waresley Garden Centre cafe, where I met up with one of my mid-week groups, has the best scones in the area, and today they were offering an unusual raspberry and chocolate variety…..but I resisted the clotted cream…..don’t ask me why….I must have been on a mission to appear virtuous.

And the quality of the cafe offerings was matched by the perfect autumnal weather, the countryside bedecked in the orange, gold and crimson of a soon to disappear seasonal feast. Carpe diem…..

IMG_20181114_170727

Has the UK got it right?

Ah, the familiar highways and byways of home, and remembering to ride on the left…..

You see, we Brits know we’ve got it right by driving/riding on the left, but most of the world just doesn’t agree with us. I mean, did you know that riding on the left owes its origin to ‘dexterity’ (right handedness)? Approximately 85% of people are naturally right-handed….so, if you were a knight in medieval times travelling the country, which side of an oncoming knight would you pass? Of course, to their left, so you could defend yourself using your right hand.

So my question to the rest of the world is….how do you defend yourself if you drive/ride on the right? Learn to be ambidextrous?

Heading to the Big Sur..

My addiction to coffee on this trip has become a reality. I only realised it when I had to cross a ‘coffee desert’ this morning and do 25 miles before my first dose of caffeine. Maybe I should carry a syringe and begin the day with an intravenous…. When I got to my first stop, all my devices went on recharge because the last campground had had no plug-ins. I now have a USB multiple device charger, which means they can all be charged simultaneously on the one plug-in. Oh yes, I’ve thought long and hard about dynamo hubs and mini-solar rechargers…..but just think of those extra grams of dead weight…. life’s too short…

I was passed by several pelotons of cyclists….or should I say, I let them pass me… One was in a race with motorcycle escorts, the second was a big group of charity riders all sporting the same shirts, and they too had a couple of support vehicles.

The third was a local club, including a tandem, and when I caught up with them as they regrouped by the roadside, we had 10 minutes of the usual cycling banter, when one of them asked: “So, tell us about your journey. You’re travelling light but I can see you have a tent”.

The scenario for replaying an old joke on a new audience was being laid and was too tempting. “Oh, from Vancouver to Mexico” I replied. “Whoa, that’s a long way” he said.”Is it?” I said “I wish someone had told me before I started.” Thinking I had had the last word on that one, he added spontaneously: “Well, I could have, but you never asked”. Boom, boom..I said to myself, as he raised his hand in a high five.

The campground tonight is the Veteran’s Memorial Park, at the top of a 400ft climb in Monterey, and at 10pm precisely, the last post was played, to be heard across the whole town and, as ever, it was a plaintiff and moving piece of music.

Santa Cruz here I come…

I picked up a much needed coffee at a Mexican Taquería, and I’m now finding myself surrounded more by Hispanics than whites, who come to these parts to work the strawberry harvest….amongst many other back-breaking jobs…

I asked to taste the strawberries, and because I asked them using what they regard as quaint old world Spanish (ie. as spoken in Spain), they smiled and proffered me one of their boxes.

I was waylaid mid-ride by Pigeon Point, a famous lighthouse in these parts, built to reduce the number of shipwrecks (after one of which the lighthouse is named), and the landing area is associated with contraband and shoot-outs. It is now an International Hostel, whose commitment to those age-old values is now, sadly, being overwhelmed by the brutality of global politics

…talking of which, I met some cyclists a couple of days north who live in Santa Cruz, and he said: “Watch your bike, it’s the bike-thieving capital of the world”. I made light of his advice by saying: “No problem, my bike is English, and it’ll only go on the left”. And he replied: “We could all do with going on the left in this nation of ours”……..hmm, interesting response.

Oh well, let’s get back to some of the uncontentious things in life, like Halloween

I mean who would argue with the glorification of scary images, suggestions of ghoulish violence, and even death in all its macabre glory?

Pass me the candy please…..

Talking of things ghoulish, is this the shadow of my former self….?

If you go to San Francisco…

It was Saturday, and there was a constant stream of cyclists coming over the Golden Gate Bridge,

seeking open countryside, and a release from city life. I appeared to be one of the few going in the opposite direction, and because of the constant traffic, pedestrians were restricted to the east crossing, and cyclists to the west.

The Golden Gate Bridge is the iconic symbol of San Francisco …called Golden Gate, not because of its colour (which is red, like my kit), but because of the name given to the bay, which pre-dates the goldrush of 1849. When the settlement was established by the Spanish, it was originally called Yerba Buena, but changed to San Francisco when it passed to the Americans.

It’s fame doesn’t rest on it being the biggest and best suspension bridge in the world, but it certainly was the first of its size, and built during the period of austerity after the Wall Street crash in 1929. For its period, it was a hugely ambitious example of engineering.

It was a special experience being able to cycle across it, gazing out to Alcatraz on one side, and out over the open sea on the other. If you’ve never done it, put it on your bucket list, and don your cycling kit.

Rather than go into the heart of the city, I steered a course around the western fringes, passing landmarks like the Legion of Honour, Lands End Lookout, and Cliff House, and as I gazed across the beach, a large crowd of people had gathered

….now this can only happen in San Francisco….for a contest of Corgi dogs…..you’ve got to be kidding, I hear you say.

I stood on the very spot where the first uninterrupted east-west highway finished, the Lincoln highway, well over 3000 miles long

…..and then I headed out along a traffic congested Highway 1 along the coast, past several surfing beaches …..(get those Beach Boy vinyls on the turntable)…

to finish for the night at Half Moon Bay, where my tent is pitched just 50 metres from the crashing waves…..a sound I find wonderfully soothing, especially in the small hours.

Sudden changes afoot…or even awheel.

I woke up this morning to a cold clammy fog, and the tent was soaked with dew, so the first thing to do was hang everything to dry

while I headed over the street for breakfast at the local bakery….

a chocolate ‘devil’ she told me….that’ll get ya goin’….

The rest of the day was characterized by two things: a major change in the temperature in a two hour period, and a noticeable change in flora and fauna. For nearly 1000 miles until now, I have been wearing cold weather gear, now suddenly I am seeing bougainvillea…

dead skunks on the road….

and thunderously loud birdsong that I could hear 500 metres away…..

And secondly, the 1.5 hour slow climb over Mt Tamalpais, reaching 2500 feet, and the hair-raising descent without the benefit of any safety barriers…..it was a bit scary, especially when impatient drivers were intent on overtaking on a very twisty road.

But going through my head like a beating mantra were the following thoughts: ‘Ascend with hope, descend with caution, and live to climb another day’.

As I descended rapidly towards the Golden Gate Bridge, I decided to leave crossing it till tomorrow, so I could do it full justice. The light was fading fast, and I had nowhere to stay….and campgrounds were noticeable by their absence. So I checked into the first roadside motel I passed, and discovered that $166 for a room is a good deal in these parts…..or the equivalent of 33 nights in $5 hiker/biker sites…..hey ho……

San Francisco beckons…

The last two days have been a WiFi desert. Even though the coast of North California is remote and untamed, I am constantly surprised how difficult it is to find a WiFi connection….after all, this is the wild west of the silicon valley.

I find my connection in a happy hour bar in Tomales, just 50 miles north of San Fransisco, where I have discreetly pitched my tent in their little park, right next to its bathrooms. I did this at the suggestion of a local lady called Fran….so if (in the unlikely event) I am challenged, I just mention her name. The town is small, about 200 inhabitants, and has all the hallmarks of a town you might see in a cowboy movie. I’ll be waiting for the shoot-out when all the rednecks have had a gutfull of beer. In the meantime, I will enjoy my happy hour platter and a Bud.

The day’s ride included huge climbs over cattle moorland, up to 600 feet, and several cattle grids. I got to Bodega Bay and my cable lock fell from its mooring on my saddlebag….and the damn thing caused me a backtrack of nearly 8 miles to retrieve it. That’s the second time it has happened…..grrr.

So, with a fair wind and a bit more downhill than uphill, I will continue following the coast tomorrow….

until I cross the Golden Gate Bridge in San Francisco…..of course, wearing flowers in my hair….

Fort Bragg to Manchester 70km

I kid you not….with a population of only 195, they could hardly drum up a substitute team for either United or City…but I actually finished my day in Manchester California, stayed at a KOA site, and for the all-inclusive price of $10, I had use of a heated pool and the most perfect hot tub of my life…..it got to those parts that I demur from describing in detail. When you are biking through these parts, you qualify for specially discounted rates, which are often as low as $5….and they are called hiker/biker sites. It’s an acknowledgement of the importance placed on environmental modes of transport, and a huge financial incentive for people to simply get on their bikes….and go. I think they are great places….

Animation of route:https://www.relive.cc/view/u3192464494

Today was filled with climbing and descending to cross river estuaries, and each one presented astonishing scenes of this rugged coastline. The sun makes the waters of the Pacific sparkle. The surface is a bright sheen that twinkles like the stars, and look at it long enough and your eyes will struggle with the brightness….I’ve never seen this before with any other sea or ocean.

Our mobile community of bikers is now down to two, me and Kurt, whom I met again on the route some 7 days ago. So we have the whole of the hiker/biker site to ourselves….for now anyway.

The feared Leggett Hill…

The Leggett Hill is the most feared climb on the entire Pacific Coast route, but why remains a mystery to me. Let me explain.

Although the total elevation is just under 2000ft, today’s route actually begins at about 850ft, meaning there is a further 1000ft to climb. Unlike many ascents in these parts, especially on highways, the near entirety of the climb does not appear as a straight road disappearing into the distance, making it fearsome in the extreme. No, Leggett Hill is on a narrow alpine type road that weaves its way up and around the mountain, with bends and curves, each one promising a conclusion, but seldom delivering, but at least tendering hope to the beleaguered climber. That’s the kind of climbing I like, always ascending with a spirit of hope.

The ascent was 4 miles long, but the descent (including a couple of plateaus) was a staggering 14 miles, and after a further taxing climb, eventually delivered me to the coast, where I asked a gentleman if there was a food store nearby. He didn’t know, but insisted on giving me a few energy bars and a bottle of iced water. I told him he was my good Samaritan….he thanked me for the compliment.

The remainder of the ride hugged the coast, eventually delivering me to the campground. But before signing off, let me introduce you to Rick, a real estate agent from Florida, who is doing the same route as me, but will stop by to visit his daughter for a few days in San Francisco.

But I perceive now that our consistent little mobile community is breaking up bit by bit, with people filtering off for a variety of reasons…..but they will be replaced soon by new faces.

Burlington to Leggett 78km

I was pulled over by a traffic cop today, as I descended a narrow stretch of road with only a 12 inch shoulder and a vertical drop to the side.

“You need to ride the shoulder”, he said. “You were holding up a line of 35 cars, and one of them was nearly rear-ended”. I asked him a series of questions about my personal safety and my rights as a vehicle on the road, but decided not to question how he knew about the 35 cars and the near collision behind him….maybe traffic cops benefit from an omniscience denied to the rest of us. He was obviously unsettled for a moment by my questions, but being a cop and a man of the law, he wasn’t about to admit to any weakness in his argument: ‘You still gotta ride the shoulder”. So I thanked him and cycled off.

Describing this little scene to two of my American cycling companions, they reassured me I was absolutely in the right, and the young guy was out of order. Probably shooting for some monthly target, they suggested. Forget it, it happens all the time.

Other excitement during the day’s ride included this arresting glimpse of early sun rays through the redwoods

and this huge specimen which was characteristic of hundreds in the forest

And adding to the portrait gallery, Erin and Nate, both Americans, met on this ride, and have taken ‘a shine’ to each other….a bespoke partnership, you might say…

Arcata to Burlington 85km

After a wet night, the new day dawned bright and warm. It was good to feel warmth back in the bones. But sadly, access to a heated pool and jacuzzi at the campground didn’t quite fit the schedule, so headed down the road in search of coffee, which I found in Archimedes’s birthplace…

Just down the road there was yet another warning I might get swept away by a tidal flood…

but my nerves were calmed when I saw a Democrat registration stall at Fortuna’s apple harvest festival, to know there are some normal decent people in the hereabouts…

And I was about to be engulfed by a 40km long Avenue of the Giants, a stunning immersion into the giant redwoods, towering over 300ft above me, some of them over 1500 years old

…….but not only that, tonight’s campground is tucked away amongst the same majestic redwoods, with trees towering above our minute tents….which also means we are in for another cold night. Let’s see, who’s building a fire tonight?

Temperate rainforests…

After 100km in the saddle and three major climbs, it was a relief to get to Elk Prairie campground, named because of the roaming elk in the surrounds. The day had been sunny and cold, and as dusk settled in, it was obvious we were in for a cold night….the result, I was told, of being in the heart of temperate rainforest.

Some of our road buddies had brought food to cook in the fire pit, so it was a welcome relief to gather around it to chat away the hours, and then to make a dash to sleeping bags to trap some of the body warmth. It was so cold in the night that I wore layers of clothing inside my light down bag, but I could still feel the chill.

In the morning, we all descended on the first cafe 6 miles down the road, stoked up with breakfast and lashings of hot coffee, before heading on to our various destinations. But let me introduce you to a few new road buddies outside the café…..

Jarney and Ali are both from Canada, and had landed themselves with their first house-sitting commitment for a lady with two cats in San Francisco. And guess what? They decided to ride the 1200 miles from Canada to get there….what greater motivation could there be?

Ocean (his chosen spirit name) has an annual commitment to attend a writers’ weekend in Esalen in Big Sur every October, so he generally rides the 800 miles to get there. Again, what better reason do you need? Check out his website: https://vintagebicycleodyssey.com/2018/10/05/a-chill-wind-blows/

Another guy, Nate, from Minnesota, began his journey in Akaska, and wants to end up scuba diving in Belize. Erin, a nurse from Texas is in between contracts so thought she would fit in the Pacific Coast route in the meantime….and so it goes on. A motley bunch linked by a common passion….riding bikes with a spirit of adventure.

On my own personal journey I will be passing the 1000km mark tomorrow.

Out of the firs and into the redwoods…

I climbed out of the sack a hour before dawn, decamped, and was heading out as the first yawning faces appeared. The temperature always plummets as the sun is coming up, and the first hour of riding is always very cold. The first 40km to Crescent City were level, so fast going, but I knew there was a major sting in the tail coming up.

But first, I met Mark on the shoulder of the highway, riding his trike for three miles to shop at Walmart…and I congratulated him for not doing it the American way….ie. climbing into his car. He was pleased about the compliment…

But the biggest climb of the first two weeks bore down on me imminently as I left Crescent City, a 5 mile climb into a redwood forest, up to 1100 ft from sea level, my first real experience of being completely surrounded by these venerable trees.

I reckon this one is the equivalent in age of a cocky teenager….about 1000 years old. The sequoias of the species can live for 3000 years, and as I meander down the Californian coast, I’m going to be feasted for several days.

Oh, before I forget, as I approached the Californian state border, I was met by two surprises. The first was a ‘weed’ shop on the state line (yep, it’s legal in California),

and a state border control, checking vehicles out for agricultural products that may bring disease into the state. I was waved through, even though I was eager to tell him I had a banana and pear in my pockets…😊

Anyway I laboured my way over two major climbs, but at ‘vista’ points there were stunning views of the coast. I have to say, Oregon pleased to overflowing in the last two days, and California has put its best foot forward on this, the first day.

Beware of the ‘scenic corridor’….

Humbug-Brookings

If you are a cyclist, beware of any stretch of road called a ‘scenic corridor’. It can only mean one thing….hills! Big hills, usually.

Now that this little mobile community of some 10 cyclists is solidifying, we pass each other on the road, we meet fortuitously in the same cafés, and we head for the same campgrounds. Nico and Katy (Americans in their 20s) storm ahead to music from a ghetto-blaster on his handlebars, which undoubtedly helped Nico conquer the 4000 mile TRANSAM recently. Sarah, from the Wirral, keeps a measured pace up the climbs, on her way to the Mexican border….she runs an online business helping to motivate women to get out of their comfort zones and change some of their life habits: http://www.toughgirlchallenges.com

Tattooed Ray has a fully loaded Bob trailer in tow, but out-paces everyone. He is amazingly strong on the hills.

Ah, those hills….the second half of the ride had massive climbs up to the said scenic corridors. Very long and gradual, they required a lot of grit and determination, one climb topping 1000ft, but people were abuzz at the end for having conquered them. And, of course, the great reward was the views…..the Pacific coast in all its glory.

And tomorrow……it’s goodbye Oregon and hello California…

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